Congress Passes Justice for All Act; Heads to the President’s Desk for Signature

*Update: On December 16, President Obama signed the Justice for All Reauthorization Act into law. RAINN applauds the President and Congress for prioritizing justice for survivors of sexual violence.

In a political climate defined by party divisions, there was a bipartisan win for survivors of sexual violence this Thursday, with the passage of the Justice for All Act Reauthorization Act of 2016. The Act will expand resources to prevent and respond to crimes of sexual violence.

“Congress is hurriedly working to finish top priorities as part of the year-end push. It speaks volumes about the bipartisan nature of Congress’ commitment to address sexual violence that the Justice for All Act is now making its way to the president’s desk," said Rebecca O'Connor, RAINN's vice president of public policy. “It’s also a testament to the efforts of hundreds of advocates from across the country who recognize, like RAINN, the good that this will do for so many.”

Justice for All, originally signed into law in 2004, enhances protections for victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes, establishes safeguards to prevent wrongful convictions, and increases the national commitment to forensic technology to help fight crime.

The 2016 reauthorization is the result of a bipartisan effort to strengthen victims’ rights and programs by increasing access to restitution and reauthorizing victim notification grants, as well as renewing the program to provide legal help to victims.

RAINN has been leading a coalition of more than 100 national, state and local organizations working closely with lawmakers this session achieve passage. In late November, the bill cleared the House of Representatives, laying the groundwork for the Senate to give a final stamp of approval. The bill is now headed to the president’s desk to sign into law.

“We are so appreciative, to so many key lawmakers, partners, and advocates who worked with RAINN to pass this bill into law,” said O’Connor. “We particularly want to thank the Senate and House lead sponsors, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). We also want to extend our gratitude to leaders including Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McCarthy, Sen. Grassley (R-IA), and Rep. Conyers (D-MI) who, by supporting this legislation, again signal a commitment to public safety and victims of crime.”

Champions for Justice for All Act also extended their appreciation for bipartisan support and a commitment to prioritizing legislation that expands victims’ rights and strengthens the criminal justice system.

“Today the House took the necessary steps forward in strengthening protection for victims of crime by passing the Justice for All Reauthorization Act,” said Rep. Poe. “As a former prosecutor and judge, I have had personal experience working with victims of crime whose lives and families' lives have been torn apart. Congress must continue to provide resources to law enforcement and crime labs in order to protect the innocent....Protecting victims of crime should be a top priority.”

“The Justice for All Reauthorization Act will strengthen the rights of crime victims by providing the protection they need to restore their lives, and enhance law enforcement’s ability to proactively stop violent criminals,” said Sen. Cornyn said. “I’m thankful for Sen. Leahy’s work on this legislation, and for the support of my colleagues in Congress as we help victims around the country rebuild their lives.”

“The Justice for All Reauthorization Act would strengthen policies and programs to provide better support for victims of crime throughout the country, especially those who live in rural regions, like California’s San Joaquin Valley,” said Rep. Costa. “As a founder and co-chair of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus, protecting the innocent and ensuring that survivors of violent crime receive the necessary services to heal is one of my top priorities in Congress. I applaud the bipartisan passage of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act in the House…”

“As a former prosecutor, I am dedicated to ensuring the integrity of our criminal justice system. It is an outrage when an innocent person is wrongly convicted and imprisoned, and we must not let rape victims live in fear while evidence languishes in storage and criminals remain on our streets,” Sen. Leahy said. “I have long championed the Justice for All Act to make our justice system more fair. I thank Sen. Cornyn for working with me over the course of several years to get this bill signed into law. As we consider legislation next Congress, we must remember that we have a continuing obligation to look out for all victims and to create fairness in our criminal justice system.”

Highlights of the bill include:

Targets the Nation’s Rape Kit Backlog:

  • Ensuring that at least 75% of funds go towards direct testing purposes.
  • Supporting the inventorying of untested rape kits.
  • Supporting states’ hiring of full-time Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs), particularly in rural and underserved areas.

Strengthens Crime Victims’ Rights and Services:

  • Improving the administration of criminal justice programs by requiring the Justice Department to assist state and local government to improve their indigent defense systems.
  • Ensuring continuity of life-saving victim services on the national level.
  • Increasing victims’ access to restitution.
  • Strengthening the Prison Rape Elimination Act by improving accountability measures to ensure states enact rape reduction policies and protecting VAWA funding streams that are critical to their crime prevention and victim support efforts.

Maximizes the Potential of DNA in Fighting Crime:

  • Renewing the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing program, which provides funding to states to help defray costs associated with post-conviction DNA testing.
  • Supporting crime laboratories by reauthorizing the Coverdell Forensic Sciences Improvement Program, which supports efforts to improve states’ crime lab policies and practices.

Supporters of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act include:

RAINN, Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Project, the Constitution Project, the Innocence Project, International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Forensic Nurses, the Joyful Heart Foundation, H-E-A-R-T, Inc., Just Detention International, Major Cities Chiefs of Police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Natasha’s Justice Project, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Children’s Alliance, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Rights4Girls, and RISE, Inc.

Want to say thank you to Congress for passing the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016? Let them know on Twitter:

@JudgeTedPoe @RepJimCosta @SenateMajLdr @SenatorReid @SpeakerRyan @GOPLeader @RepGoodlatte @RepJohnConyers @ChuckGrassley @SenatorLeahy